Mystery: The Unhealthy Romantic Ideal

Every now and then, when discussing my attitude to dating and such like, someone will say that they don’t like my approach because “It ruins the mystery”. And at first I thought maybe that was a flaw in my method, maybe I was missing out on something? But it got me to really think about mystery, and what good it does. My conclusion was basically “if you’re me – none”… And in fact, it’s actually started to annoy me how prevalent an idea “mystery” is in romance, when people never stop to think what is so great about all this uncertainty?


I guess we should start by asking what is its purpose? Why do people generally feel the need to have mystery in the first place? Well, there are probably a few theories about this that i’ve missed out… but this is what I’ve come up with:

I’ve done a fair bit of dating in the last few years, and it’s really shown me how *few* people out there I am really compatible with, for one reason or another. This is exactly what I expect, we’re all different after all. I think a lot of people will find this hunt for compatibility exhausting and depressing though, and it makes sense – especially if they’re single and feel like they have gone through enough disappointments in their lifetime. I think a lot of people react to this by chasing the mysterious.

When people don’t give much away it leaves everyone else with a blank slate – and our brains are usually pretty good at making up stuff to fill in the gaps: Ohhh how sweet, he’s gazing off into the distance because he’s thinking about (insert desirable thing here). He’s actually probably just thinking about pizza… or something. And the longer that mystery continues the deeper the relationship gets, until you’re in love with a person you’re completely incompatible with! But people would rather be enjoying a relationship based on mystery than still dating, so they’re quite happy to settle for a doomed relationship. It’s understandable. But the part mystery plays in all this is to lengthen that time that you can suspend your disbelief, so that by the time you start noticing all the little things you hate about each other, woops – it’s too late, you’re invested in the relationship.

It makes loads of sense actually. And for those poor single people who have no luck – I’m sort of happy they have mystery to help them find some joy in their lives. But it won’t be with me. And that’s because I believe it to be damaging. So far I’ve come up with four reasons. There’s probably more, but here goes:

1) It encourages repression and bad communication

Do I need to explain this one much? I’ve genuinely had partners in the past tell me they’d prefer it if I didn’t communicate my thoughts and feelings because it “ruins the mystery”. Oh push off would you?

2) It’s manipulative. 

When I say this I’m mostly referring to people who *use* mystery as a way to get people’s interest, as opposed to the people who desire it. I’ve noticed that part of why some people desire mystery is because it gets them a bit insecure – which in effect makes them want the person more, because they are being deprived of that certainty and security. So if someone plays “hard to get” or pretends that they aren’t as interested as they are, it’s kind of playing on the other person’s insecurities. It is probably to protect themselves as well, though in a fairly ineffective way – if someone pretends they’re not into someone and they don’t respond by pursuing them more then they might believe that they’re not interested. So they feel it’s easier to move on, they can pretend they weren’t really interested in the first place. It might not have been true though, as the other person could have been put off by their cool exterior thinking it was genuine disinterest… or worse, they were playing it cool too!

3) It gives way to unhealthy relationship role models. 

It seems that in the media, characters who appear mysterious and brooding will literally get away with abuse. Twilight anyone? Romanticising these uncommunicative, unbalanced individuals will only reinforce this pattern that seems to exist in society (particularly with men) where the least nice and emotionally healthy people will be the most attractive – and therefore the genuinely awesome people will go unrecognised (and often; become bitter and angry towards the world of dating). This is not cool guys. We REALLY need to buck this messed up trend. And on a similar note:

4) It punishes the honest.

I for one would like more direct and honest people in this world, but by demanding mystery; you’re punishing this behaviour. I don’t appreciate having it done to me either.

I’ve also heard arguments that protect the ideal of mystery. For example, some people say you should keep the mystery alive so that you spread out all the information and don’t run out of stuff to tell each other. Well… I’ve been in a relationship for 5 and a half years and we know everything we could possibly think to tell each other about ourselves – yet we still manage to chatter away as if we’ve just met. You learn new things about yourself and life every day – trust me when I say, you’re never going to run out of random stuff to tell each other. And, personally, I prefer feeling like I’m keeping my partners up to speed on my take on things.

The only other argument I can think of is, “It’s just not as fun without mystery”. And that’s an insubstantial argument if I’ve ever heard one. And also totally down to personal preference. I’ve always found it considerably more fun to let my feelings be known to all, than to play along with this silly game just because you twisted my arm.

So that’s pretty much it. I still sort of have my mind open to this, so feel free to start a discussion in the comments. Let me know what you think, is there any decent reason not to abandon this ideal altogether?

3 thoughts on “Mystery: The Unhealthy Romantic Ideal

  1. I think it’s similar/related to the common preconception that romantic relationships require initial infatuation to work. Maybe the mystery is actually meant to be a part of the limerence state. Your User Manual notes this kind of feeling is often based on fictional vision of the given person, so I’d guess being mysterious can improve the odds of being infatuated in some idealised person.

    This goes along with my own experiences where my targets of ‘falling in love with’ were girls I did never really have any contact with! So it probably doesn’t make much sense to rely on such kind of feeling, considering how little information I have about these girls.

  2. I’ve thought about it a lot, and I completely agree, its crazy that you can fall in love with someone you don’t actually know, but there it is. That said I’ve never really had a proper mysterious relationship, im just too forward, But i don’t think its just about suspension of disbelief, I think there is a certain eroticism and romance in silence, in reading someone’s eyes and expressions and not needing words, and the pleasure that can come from having someone treat you exactly as you wish without you having to express it.
    Still honesty is best I think.

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